Update: Punk’d 0-3. Czech and mate. 1990 all over again. The biggest step backward for US Soccer since 1998. After Mexico won and Trinidad tied and even Costa Rica looked dangerous, this was a disgusting display.
US Soccer is a team you can root for.
It turns a different face to the world. It’s humble. They’re underdogs. They’re gentlemen. They accept abuse without lashing out. There are no egos here.
How very un-American. Yes, and how Americans need to see that right now.
US Soccer also brings something to the table world football needs. Wholesomeness.
In most of the world, football is a way out. It’s an escape for workers, it’s life itself to the men who play it. You either win the lottery with your skill on the ball, or you live in poverty, you die young, you never travel. You’re either a Football God or human refuse.
Our guys aren’t like that. Without football they could find good jobs and coach on weekends. Most have been to college. They’re family men. There’s not a jerk in the deck (Clint Mathis is fading away in MLS). They’re red, white, and mostly blue, as in blue state (no matter where they come from). They are not in your face. They’ll compete, fiercely, but they’ll also shake your hand.
Brian McBride, who ABC is pushing most heavily, is a good example. He’s a St. Louis University graduate from Arlington Heights, Ill. He and his family live in London. He plays for Fulham in the EPL. Had a good year, but didn’t scream for more playing time, never raises a ruckus. He’s thoroughly professional, happy to be there, amused at the huge fan base, and when he’s done in a couple of years he’ll come back home to anonymity, probably in Columbus, where he played MLS for many years.
America is yob-free. Here it’s a suburban game, a kid’s game, a family game. Our players grew up with lawns and flush toilets. Most have gone to college. While there are some groups that jump up-and-down — the Chivas guys (a Mexican import), DC United’s Screaming Eagles, or Sam’s Army, which follows the national side — these are exceptions. Win or lose, they won’t riot.
Football, or soccer, needs this. They need more fair play, they need more intelligent, worldly men (Wayne Rooney, for all his talent, is just a yob underneath, and an ugly one at that), they need more fans who would happily go out for a beer with the other team’s fans after the game, and buy that beer.
So what about the next two weeks? What are our chances?
Beyond Brazil, always the favorite, and Germany, the hosts, there are a dozen or so teams that are "in the mix," that can easily win this thing. England, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, the Czechs, Argentina, Mexico.
We’re in the mix, too. We’ve learned how to beat Mexico, we can beat anyone. On the other hand we’re in the "group of death" with two other teams that can lift the trophy — the Czech Republic and Italy. We could be humiliated. This makes it more fun, I think.
Our guys have experience. Most have played in Europe, or have played internationally for several years. They play together. They are winners. Gregg Berhalter led Energie Cottbus back into the Bundesliga, as team captain. Bobby Convey led Reading into the Premier League. Landon Donovan has won American titles. Kasey Keller and Brian McBride are among the best at what they do.
We also have the unexpected. Eddie Johnson, who is just re-gaining the form that made him a killer goal scorer in 2004, doesn’t even have a page on the BBC site. Exx-cellent. Oguchi Onyewu can stop anyone. Bruce Arena (above) is one of the world’s great coaches, despite having been a goalie. Our guys will run for 90 minutes, all 11 of them (the goalie will run in place), and they’re disciplined.
Also, they’re loose. If they lose they reload. Freddie Adu is coming up, Frankie Simek is coming up, and literally hundreds of others. Americans who have grown up with the game are seeing they can make a good life in soccer and they’re signing up in droves.
What are our weaknesses? We play just one system. I haven’t seen Arena successfully "change it up" and make it work, the way Mexico did today against Iran. You beat us playing the way we play, you beat us. Get the first goal and we don’t often come back. We do have a shortage of world-class talent. Some of our guys — McBride, Keller, Reyna — are getting old.
If we go down early to the Czechs, we could be gone in a hurry. Or (believe it or not) we could be playing in July. If we are, the world will truly turn upside-down. And it just may.